49ERS // RAMS OVERVIEW
This game would be quite a bit more exciting if it were being played in Santa Clara, where the 49ers are 4-4 with an average point differential of -0.6. Instead, the 49ers will be on the road — where they are 0-7 on the year, with an average point differential of -10.3. They are taking on a Rams team that needs to win this game in order to lock up a first round bye without requiring help — with this team looking a lot more like themselves last week in an easy 31-9 win on the road over the Cardinals. It comes as no surprise that the Rams have been installed as 10.0 point favorites in this spot, in a game with an Over/Under of 48.5.
49ERS PASS OFFENSE
The Rams rank middle of the pack this year in yards allowed per pass attempt, passing touchdowns allowed, and yards allowed to wide receivers, while quietly allowing the seventh most yards to the tight end position and the seventh most touchdowns to wideouts. With the 49ers likely to be chasing points in this spot, there is a good chance we will see a couple quality scores emerge from this side of the ball.
Throughout the second half of the season, Tampa is the only team that has allowed a higher catch rate to wide receivers than the Rams, and only six teams have allowed a higher yards per pass attempt mark. The Rams have been especially susceptible in the short areas of the field, where Nick Mullens and this 49ers attack primarily focuses — allowing a monstrous 78% completion rate to wideouts on short passes since Week 9. With Dante Pettis out this week and Marquise Goodwin continuing to struggle with lower-body injuries, it will be Kendrick Bourne taking on the bulk of the wide receiver work for this team, in a role that has recently allowed Pettis to be penciled in for around seven targets each week. Bourne shapes up as a strong salary-saver in Week 17, with a solid price-considered floor, and with a decent shot at true, starting-caliber upside.
On a per-pass basis, the Rams have been one of the tougher teams in the league against tight ends, with the fifth lowest catch rate allowed to the position across the second half of the season, and with the fourth lowest passer rating allowed on throws to the position. With that said: A) the Rams have filtered the fourth most targets in the league to tight ends, and B) worrying about matchup has been a wasted effort with George Kittle this year, as he has recent target counts of 10 // 13 // 9 // 9 // 8 // 12, with three of these games coming in difficult tight end matchups. With the Rams getting hammered for high per-reception yardage marks by tight ends, Kittle’s explosive upside remains intact, while his volume should be able to float his floor — keeping him in the conversation with the top tight ends on the slate.
Behind Bourne and Kittle, it will be some combination of Goodwin // Richie James Jr. // Trent Taylor soaking up the remaining looks through the air for this offense. None of these guys can be expected to function as more than “guess and hope” plays.
49ERS RUN OFFENSE
Whenever possible, the 49ers aim to be one of the run-heaviest offenses in the NFL, with the 11th highest rush play rate in the league — in spite of a 4-11 record that points to this team constantly trailing in games. The nature of a road game against the high-powered Rams (for a 49ers team that is 0-7 on the road) will obviously make it difficult for this team to remain as run-heavy from start to finish as they would like, but there will still be some opportunities for this squad to take advantage of a matchup against a team that ranks 31st in yards allowed per carry. Further improving this matchup for the 49ers is the nature of their rushing attack, which aims to pile up carries off-tackle, rather than sticking to runs up the gut. These are the carries on which the Rams are most attackable — and these are the carries on which the Rams give up their highest percentage of busted plays. With Matt Breida out this week, it should be The Jeff Wilson Show once again, after Wilson played 54 and 62 snaps in Weeks 13 and 14 with Breida on the sidelines (78.4% of the 49ers plays those weeks), piling up 23 and 24 touches in those games. Working against Wilson is an offense that rarely throws to running backs and a matchup against a Rams team that has allowed the fourth fewest receiving yards to the position, making him a likely yardage-and-touchdown back this week. Further working against Wilson is projected game flow. Further working against Wilson is the fact that the Rams have allowed only 60.1 opponent plays per game (the fifth lowest mark in the NFL). But Wilson should have a shot at 45 to 50 snaps this week and anywhere from 16 to 22 touches, making him a viable option at the lower ends of the price range.
RAMS RUN OFFENSE
The 49ers have been strong against the run this year — ranking ninth in yards allowed per carry, and absolutely stonewalling interior runs for much of the season (notably allowing only 3.1 yards per carry on runs up the gut — which is where the Rams used C.J. Anderson on 15 of his 20 carries last week, and is where Anderson is best suited). As of the end of Thursday, we still do not know if Todd Gurley will play this week, but Steve Wyche has reported that Sean McVay told him Anderson will retain a role either way, creating an interesting situation in Week 17 — in which Gurley cannot be “counted on” for his full workload, and in which Anderson will have a matchup that suits him poorly if he is the lead back once again.
If Gurley plays, of course, there is a chance that McVay was blowing smoke, and that his star back will step right back into a full workload (though even if this is the case, this is a game the Rams have a chance to put away early — which would allow them to rest Gurley down the stretch rather than risking further injury). He’ll be best viewed (from a price-considered perspective) as an iffy-floor, obviously high-ceiling play.
If Gurley misses, it will be Anderson carrying the mail once again after he played 51 out of 60 snaps with the starters last week and touched the ball 21 times. With only one reception last week, Anderson is best viewed as a true yardage-and-touchdown back, and it should be noted that his 167-yard explosion came in one of the softest run matchups in football; but in this offense — with the red zone role available to the running back position — he will be, at the very least, worth considering once again.
RAMS PASS OFFENSE
While the 49ers rank a respectable 11th in yards allowed per pass attempt, this team has — unfathomably — intercepted only two passes all season. This has allowed opponents to continually pick up positive production, with only one team in football allowing more passing touchdowns than San Francisco, and with no team allowing more touchdown receptions to the wide receiver position. On a per-play basis, the 49ers have not been a team we should go out of our way to attack — but passing attacks as a unit are consistently able to pile up fantasy points in this spot, making this a worthwhile spot to attack when volume is concentrated on a small pool of players. Along these lines: the health of Gurley will have a lot to do with expectations on this Rams passing attack, as a healthy Gurley will be a Gurley who will soak up five to seven targets of his own, while a sidelined Gurley would leave these targets to be picked up by wide receivers, with the Rams’ fill-in running back unlikely to be involved much in the pass game. On the surface, this didn’t quite play out last week, as Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Josh Reynolds all saw low volume for their standard expectations; but last week, Jared Goff threw the ball only 24 times. This is another game the Rams should be able to put away fairly easily, but with the 49ers presenting a much more challenging matchup on the ground than the Cardinals presented (and being specifically good at defending what Anderson does best), there is a decent chance we see Goff in the 33 to 38 pass attempt range in this spot.
As noted last week: Woods is the highest-floor piece in this attack with Cooper Kupp out of action, as his slot rate has doubled since Kupp went down — locking him into the high-floor looks that consistently made Kupp one of the safest plays each week. While Woods’ two-touchdown game from last week is obviously not predictably repeatable, he does still retain upside with this role, as he continues to see downfield looks (one of his seven targets last week came 25 yards downfield; another came 40 yards downfield). San Francisco has allowed the second highest completion rate in the NFL on downfield passes, giving these Upside looks an opportunity to hit.
The 49ers’ struggles against downfield passes also provide added value to expectations for Cooks, who is sure to go overlooked this week with his price still far too high for his recent production. Cooks’ floor remains fairly low at the moment, but his ceiling keeps him in the tourney conversation.
Reynolds has been an even higher-variance play than Cooks, and he saw his role shrink last week (35 snaps) with the Rams leaning heavily on two tight end sets with Anderson in the backfield. He’ll be at risk this week of scaled-back snaps again if Gurley is sidelined, though he should return to his full-time gig on the perimeter if Gurley is on the field. Either way, he’s a low-floor option with a clear shot at ceiling in this high-scoring offense — though this play will obviously feel a lot better if Reynolds projects to see a full complement of snaps.
The 49ers’ best coverage this year has come against tight ends, with this team allowing the fourth fewest receptions and the sixth fewest yards to the position — though it is worth taking note of the fact that Gerald Everett has seen recent target counts of 7 // 7 // 6. All three of these games have come against strong tight end defenses (Bears // Eagles // Cardinals), making Everett an interesting way to save salary this week (particularly on DraftKings, where he costs only 5.6% of the salary cap).
The Rams’ offense is an interesting study this week, with the presence or absence of Gurley making a big difference in exactly how we should expect this unit to function. If Gurley plays, I’ll probably take a small number of shots on him if I go with some mass-multi-entry play, though he certainly will not be a staple for me with concerns that his knee will be protected in Week 17 with Anderson mixing in throughout the game (and potentially taking over down the stretch). More importantly: I’ll have less interest in Cooks in tourneys if Gurley plays, as Gurley and Reynolds will both be around to soak up more targets; and I’ll have more interest in Cooks if Gurley is out, as the Rams can be projected to run more two tight end sets, with more targets projected to flow his way. Either way, Cooks is a tourney-only play for me. His upside remains regardless; but his chances of hitting will rise if Gurley misses. Elsewhere on this attack: Woods is intriguing (regardless of Gurley’s status) as a high-floor, solid-ceiling option; Everett is surprisingly appealing, as the Rams continue to find ways to get him involved; and Goff is viable in tourneys for the upside he provides (with some hope that the 49ers keep this game close enough — and do enough to slow down the run — for the Rams to continue passing throughout).
As much as I want to like Jeff Wilson on the other side of this game, I probably won’t end up leaning on him as a primary piece, as the likeliest scenario in this spot projects him for a limited role in the pass game, but he is certainly worth considering for the heavy snaps/touches he is likely to see. The 49ers’ passing attack is a different story, with Kendrick Bourne, George Kittle, and (to a lesser extent) Nick Mullens all very much in play.
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